Opinions concerning the charters, 1606

Pages 123-124

The Spanish Company. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1973.

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In this section

v. Opinions concerning the charters, 1606

(B.M. Harl. 295 ff. 211–212v)

752. The difficulties which have arisen in the charters of the merchants trading to Spain. (fn. 1)

[The document reviews the grants previously made to the company by Henry VIII, Charles V and Elizabeth, with particular attention to the latter.] This charter [of 1577] was used until the embargo, from which time they had no use of their charter until 1604, when a confirmation was granted of the said charters under the great seal by virtue of a general warrant granted to the lord chancellor. And upon that confirmation they entering into use again, complaints against the charter were made by merchants not free, pretending the same to be grievous; wherefore it pleased the lords of the council to refer the consideration thereof to the lord chief baron and the attorney general and others, to consider first of the validity of the charter; and if it were needful to obtain a new charter, to consider how far it might be convenient for the common good of the trade to have a new charter. Hereupon it was certified that there were imperfections in the former charter, as well in the form of words of the incorporation as also for the non-user. And thereupon the charter now in question was by order from his majesty drawn and granted as it now stands.

753. In the charter there are 557 by express name admitted to be free; and by general words all their sons and apprentices and all others named in the charter of 1577 and their sons and apprentices also. And commandment is further therein given to admit over and above the said number mere merchants not being retailers et cetera desiring the same, paying if they require it the first year £10 and if they require it the second year £15 and desiring it after two years £20. And if they be free of other companies then they are to procure one freedom for another, or to pay as much as they take of others to be made free in their companies etc., their sons and apprentices to pay as their fathers did before, as appears more at large by the breviat.

754. Exceptions are now taken to this charter; first that it is an impediment to free trade contrary to the statute of 1497. (fn. 2)

755. Response: they answer that it is no further impediment than is given by all other companies since made, viz. the Merchant Adventurers, the Russia Company, the Eastland Company, the company of Tripoli (fn. 3) which have notwithstanding been erected and continued to the good of the commonwealth.

756. Objection: that whereas mariners do now increase by fishing at Newfoundland, if they should be restrained to sell their fish in Spain they should be discouraged to go fishing, and so navigation decay.

757. Response: it is answered they shall not hereby be restrained for that the merchants trading for Spain will buy their fish from them yearly to the value of £40,000 and will bear the hazard of the venting the same again in Spain, so that they shall have no less cause to fish than they now have, which the merchants think to be the more convenient because the fishers now thrusting into every port of Spain without order do but glut the market and cannot make the best of the commodity and yet hinder the merchant. (fn. 4)

758. Objection: the Scots and Irish are left at liberty and only the Englishman restrained by this corporation.

759. Response: it is no otherwise in this than in the other companies.

760. Objection: it is over chargeable in respect of admittance money viz. for that they which come in by redemption should pay the first year £10 the second £15 the third et cetera £20 and their children and servants hereafter for ever in like sort.

761. Response: it is answered that the greatness of the charge that the company has undergone and is yearly to undergo cannot be conveniently discharged otherwise, and the good which does and will grow thereby will be to the benefit of all such as shall be admitted, and therefore that the same ought not to seem burdensome to them. Besides, that they take not more than other companies it is apparent, because they are content to admit one for another out of any company of mere merchants.

762. Objection: that none are to be admitted but mere merchants, which is against the liberty of all other subjects.

763. Response: it is said that herein the direction of 1563 has been followed because by that statute order is taken that none may exercise any mystery etc. but such as have been apprenticed to it. (fn. 5) If it shall please your lordships to change anything in this charter it is wished rather to be done by order than by a new charter, because this charter is approved in Spain and therefore suite must be made anew for confirmation if a new one should be made again, which would be a discredit to the company and benefit to none. Besides, the company of Tripoli since made will thereby encroach upon this company. (fn. 6)


  • 1. The document is probably best dated to the early months of 1606 during the parliamentary attack on the company.
  • 2. 12 Hen. VII cap. 6, entitled 'Merchant Adventurers' which decreed that all Englishmen might trade freely to the coasts of Holland Zeeland Flanders and Brabant, and the places adjoining, for a fee of ten marks. Although cited here as an act in support of free trade the statute is more usually regarded as a milestone in the development of the Merchant Adventurers' monopoly.
  • 3. The Levant Company, first incorporated in 1581, which established one of its earliest consuls at Tripoli (Wood, History of the Levant Company, 11–15).
  • 4. See above, p. xlv.
  • 5. 5 Eliz. cap. 4, statute of artificers.
  • 6. The Levant Company received a new and permanent charter on 14 Dec. 1605 (see above, p. xlix).